Revival benefits: Fact or fiction?

Area agencies tapped out trying to help worshipers

The Pensacola News Journal/November 20, 1997
By Kimberly Blair and J. Lowe Davis

Pensacola -- Brownsville leaders say the revival has done wonders for the Pensacola economy.

They boast that it has performed miracles for the afflicted and the addicted.

They do not highlight the burden the revival is placing on the community.

They do not provide medical verification of the healing miracles.

The News Journal 's four-month investigation into Brownsville claims has found that the revival 's benefits have been overstated and the negative effects have been overlooked or understated.

The revival is bringing in thousands of visitors, and many of them spend some money here but how many and how much? Nobody could provide the News Journal with data that could gauge whether the influx is an economic boon.

The Pensacola Convention and Visitors Center, which is connected to the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce, has kept no figures on revival visitors and could not provide an assessment of the revival 's economic impact.

Fast-food and buffet-style restaurants say they have enjoyed increased patronage, ranging from 5 to 20 percent, since the revival started 2 years ago.

A number of motels have had more business because of the revival, but most are ones with rooms in the moderate-price and budget range. Some of the motel managers complain that revival visitors keep a tight rein on spending by crowding a number of people into one room.

And then there are the revival visitors who spend nothing at all because they have nothing. Those are the ones the community 's charities and service agencies are seeing in quantity.

Those are the people who are driving beat-up cars, hitchhiking, or hopping on buses with a one-way ticket in hand.

They have heard that the Pensacola Brownsville Revival is the answer to all their emotional, financial and spiritual needs.

They have heard that God is moving nightly inside Brownsville Assembly of God.

They have heard that God will work a miracle for them, if they can just get into the church and get saved.

They have heard once they arrive, "God will provide."

But when the revival services end for the night, a number of those people find themselves without a place to sleep or anything to eat.

They seek help from the church.

They are turned away.

"A lot will come and want gas money to get back home. We are not set up for that," said Rose Compton, Brownsville Assembly of God business administrator.

"We have such a tremendous expense with employees and products we use. We don 't have the money for their personal needs."

The revival is taking in about $3 million a year, according to the church 's estimate of $12,500 a night. The church 's 1996 total budget was $6.6 million and its revenue was $6.5 million.

The influx

Receiving no assistance from the church, the needy visitors find their way to public agencies and charities, which are not set up or sufficiently funded to handle the influx.

Loaves and Fishes has housed two families and about 10 to 15 individuals who said they came here for the revival, said Rick Humphreys, executive director. But Loaves and Fishes is mainly a soup kitchen with a few emergency shelter beds.

Humphreys is happy to help, he said. Brownsville is one of about 20 churches that donates money to the charity. Humphreys would not say how much any of the churches give.

The Jesus Care Center, a soup kitchen at Northridge Church, has fed many revival visitors from many states as well as from overseas. One man, in a wheelchair, was from England, said Steve Hauck, who operates the kitchen.

"A lot come in and say they came to stay to go to revival. They try to find work," he said.

Brownsville gave a one-time donation to the center, he said. Neither he nor the church would say how much.

Lon Roberts, pastor of Circle Baptist Church and board member of the Escambia Coalition on the Homeless, has helped several out-of-town families of revival visitors plus four individuals who were stranded when their money ran out.

"At least one felt like he was getting so much from the revival he wanted to stay and get more." But he had no money, Roberts said. "He was not prepared."

"The revival has brought more needy to the community than the social services can deal with."

Many agencies say they are just now beginning to realize the extent of the negative impact the revival is having on local resources.

Several agency officials fear the burden will worsen as the revival goes on. They note that the revival urges the visitor to "get here as often as you can."

One agency, which relies in part on public funding, has almost gone broke assisting the revival poor, according to its spokesman. He asked that the agency not be identified. Reason: He wants to protect client confidentiality and because he and other officials there don 't want local donors to know they have nearly depleted the agency 's resources on out-of-towners.

The Escambia Coalition on the Homeless has not asked Brownsville Assembly of God to start helping, Roberts said, because a Brownsville member told him the church had a homeless program called Hope Outreach Ministry.

However, the News Journal has found that Hope Outreach Ministry is not a program for the homeless nor is it church-funded. It is part of Brownsville Revival Blessing Outreach, created and run by volunteers with donations from local businesses and individuals.

Businesses assist

Social service agencies are not the only ones bearing the burden of providing for the revival 's poor.

Sue Williams, who operates Elegant Junk, a second-hand furniture and clothing store on Mobile Highway near the church, said she has spoken with at least a dozen revival visitors who ended up broke and stranded after attending revival.

"I see homeless sleeping on church grounds, convinced that church is the answer to everything," she said.

Williams does what she can by giving them clothes. She also gives them phone numbers of agencies that might help. She keeps a list posted on a bulletin board behind her counter.

Sybil Folsom sees those people as well. She operates Sybil 's Kitchen, a small cafe on Mobile Highway, two blocks west of the church.

"I give them a sandwich and a cup of coffee," said Folsom, who says she is a Christian and does not mind feeding the homeless.

She also does not mind lending an ear.

Folsom said that they all say the same thing: "God told me to come to Pensacola. God said, 'Don 't worry about money. ' God will provide."

Jean Rey, director of the Pensacola Bay Baptist Association benevolence program, said that many of the revival visitors are not only poor, they lack good judgment.

"They 've heard there are miracles and God will perform that miracle for them. I wish I could invent a pill to give people good judgment."

"Brownsville needs a benevolent program just like some of the other churches have.

"Brownsville should shoulder a greater responsibility for those who come for revival. They can take a percentage of the nightly offering to fund it," Rey said.

Roberts, the Circle Baptist pastor, said he would advise revival visitors to use common sense.

Rey believes people can find what they are seeking at home.

"I would want to tell them, 'Stay home and find a local church,' " Rey said. "God does not live just in Pensacola."

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